Member Profiles: Allison Benis White, Lindsay Hill, Ella Taylor, and Melanie Thorne



MEMBER PROFILE: Allison Benis White
Poetry Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
As a new member, I’m most excited about PEN Center USA’s deep and vital commitment to freedom of expression.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
I enjoyed having the opportunity to read many books of contemporary American poetry and witnessing the incredible diversity and quality of the submitted collections. As a writer, I was inspired and restored.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
Freedom to write means the ability to put pen to paper without the threat of imprisonment, censorship, or persecution. It also means time and space to write, which is hinged to a degree of solvency.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
I’m reading and loving Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

Allison Benis White is the author of Please Bury Me in This (Four Way Books, 2017) and Small Porcelain Head, winner of the Levis Prize in Poetry, and named a finalist for the California Book Award and the PEN Center USA 2014 Literary Award in Poetry. Her first book, Self-Portrait with Crayon, received the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Book Prize. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She has received honors and awards from the San Francisco Foundation, the Academy of American Poets, and Poets & Writers magazine. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.

Read Allison's poems here.




MEMBER PROFILE: Lindsay Hill
Poetry Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
PEN Center USA’s advocacy for writers and the community it has built around this cause.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
The opportunity to read so much compelling writing and to have the opportunity to work with the other judges during the selection process.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
It means the protected opportunity to explore, with candor, subjects that may be at the edges of the mainstream cultural “frame.”

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project.

Lindsay Hill was born in San Francisco and graduated from Bard College. Since 1974, he has published six books of poetry and his work has appeared in a wide variety of literary journals. Sea of Hooks, his first novel, was published by McPherson & Company in late 2013. Sea of Hooks won the PEN Center USA 2014 Literary Award for Fiction, the 2015 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction, and was a finalist for both the Chautauqua Prize and the 2014 Oregon Book Award. Lindsay works in the nonprofit sector and lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, the painter Nita Hill.




MEMBER PROFILE: Ella Taylor
Screenplay Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
I admire PEN Center USA’s defense of writers around the world who suffer from a lack of freedom to express themselves, or are persecuted for what they write.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
I enjoyed the interaction with my fellow jurors, who are intelligent, discerning, and funny as needed.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
Pretty much the same as my first answer above. No constraints on freedom of expression…and an abundance of coffee shops that welcome writers on deadline who sit for hours nursing a single cup of coffee.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
I’ve just finished Pat Barker’s newly published Noonday, and now I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, after which I will read every Elena Ferrante novel or essay I can lay hands on.

Ella Taylor writes about film for NPR.org, Variety, Fandor, and others, and teaches in the School of Cinema at USC.

Read “Blow-Up: Agitprop and the Docu Moment” here.




MEMBER PROFILE: Melanie Thorne
Fiction Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
I was lucky enough to witness just one facet of the many ways PEN Center USA changes lives when I served as a mentor for the Emerging Voices Fellowship, and I could not have been more impressed. Its commitment to supporting writers who are underrepresented in the literary world and who lack access to a supportive community is a gift, not just to the silenced voices that are finally given the chance to be heard, but for the rest of us who are exposed to their words.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
I was exposed to many books I thoroughly enjoyed and would not have otherwise picked up, so I’m thankful for that. But my favorite part of the process was the chance to have spirited discussions about literature with smart, talented writers. My co-judges were funny, delightful people with great insights, and to delve into the details of what merited further consideration and why was just an absolute pleasure.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
I was raised in a family where speaking the truth wasn’t allowed, and without writing, I’m sure I would have gone insane. The freedom to write, to express one’s stories and beliefs—and to read the stories of others so that you might feel less alone—is a basic human right, and a necessity for those whose voices are shut down or ignored.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
I’m reading and re-reading a selection of YA fantasy books for research.

Melanie Thorne is the author of Hand Me Down, a debut novel in the tradition of Dorothy Allison and Janet Fitch. A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2012, a 2013 ALA Alex Award nominee, and a 2014 Book Pipeline finalist, Hand Me Down received four stars from People and raves from additional media, including the San Francisco Chronicle, DailyCandy, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Associated Press. Melanie earned her MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis, and has been awarded the Alva Englund Fellowship, the Maurice Prize in Fiction, and a Hedgebrook residency. She was a 2014 Virginia Quarterly Review Nonfiction Scholar and a 2014 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Mentor. She lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program.